Wed, Apr

Is The United States Again Moving Closer To Open Fascism?


GUEST COMMENTARY - At the beginning of the Trump administration, I wrote several articles for CityWatchLA on the prospects for fascism in the U.S. 

It is time to revisit this question because many analysts contend that the January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters was a preview of worse things to come, including fascism.  

Here are some basic questions and answers about the likelihood of fascism in the United States and the replacement of this country’s anemic parliamentary democracy with authoritarian/fascist rule through another Capitol putsch or similar scenarios. 

Are fascist trends already observable in the United States?  Yes.  In addition to the emergence, again, of fascist groups, like those who demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11, 2017, according to the Swedish Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the United States has become a backsliding Democracy.  They offer two reasons:  1) The U.S. no longer has an effective parliament.  2) The U.S. has experienced declines in freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. 

Could the United States government turn from a backsliding democracy to full-throated authoritarian rule?  Yes.   In the U.S. democracy is already limited in three ways that could be steps toward fascism.  First, the U.S.’s political establishment’s commitment to fair elections is wavering.  It only applies to the United States itself, not to foreign countries, like Egypt, whose U.S. supported dictator, General Abdel Fattah Sisi, overthrew an elected government.  Political analyst David Swanson argues this is typical, and he identified 50 authoritarian countries that receive U.S. military support.   

Second, such democratic rights as freedom of the press, speech, and assembly do not apply to workplaces in the United States.  This country already has millions of locations exempt from the Bill of Rights, where the boss is the supreme leader (Führer in German). 

Third, through the Citizens United decision, the electoral process in the United States is legally dominated by mega-donors, whose financial interests and ideology dominate all levels of government.  What the media and pols present as “the national interest” amounts to the views of these major campaign donors. 

Are there example of fascist rule already underway that could expand to include the domestic political process?  Yes.  In addition to the top down authoritarian management model at nearly all workplaces in the United States, the Federal, State, and local governments have accumulated extraordinary powers to spy on the American population.  For example, U.S. Senators Wyden and Heinrich recently reported yet another previously unknown CIA program to collect troves of data on US citizens based on warrantless backdoor searches. 

Are there historical precedents for fascism that indicate what could transpire  in the United States?  Yes.  Federal government agencies like the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, and NSA have a wealth of  experience in promoting authoritarian governments in foreign countries and when necessary, overthrowing their elected leaders.  The formal prohibitions on importing these techniques into the United States are notoriously porous.  For example, in 2019 the FBI purchased Israeli Pegasus cell phone spyware, which it then used to spy on the American public. 

In addition, the U.S. has already had many previous brushes with domestic fascism.  During WWI, Congress adopted the Sedition and Espionage Acts.  They are clearly authoritarian, have never been rescinded, and are currently used to prosecute government whistle blowers.  Another example is during WWII, when the Roosevelt Administration locked-up Japanese-Americans in ten concentration camps. 

What lies ahead in the U.S.?  Historically, fascism is a desperate response by ruling elites to a deep crisis that threatens their rule.  One trigger is domestic economic collapse, characterized by high unemployment and a declining standard of living.  After 20 years of low interest rates and the infusion of trillions of new dollars into the banking system, recessions have not been stopped, inflation is at a forty year high, and other measures, like untreated mental illness, food insecurity, and homelessness, continue to climb.  The stagflation crisis of the 1970s and 1980s is returning, in the form of rising interest rates, inflation, and potential recessions.  

A second and parallel trigger is sustained foreign policy reversals, such as the U.S. defeats in Cuba, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, and the U.S. government’s inability to prevent the rise of China and prevent Russian military interventions in Syria and the Ukraine.  Even though the United States has chosen to fight many wars since WWII, it has only had a few token victories: the Dominican Republic under LBJ, Panama under George H.W. Bush, and the tiny island of Grenada under Reagan.  

The other wars and interventions have been indecisive or an outright losses, including Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Honduras.  The current hotspot, the Ukraine, offers the embarrassing spectacle of the U.S. government imposing economic sanctions since it cannot persuade the U.S. public and its NATO allies to militarily confront Russia on behalf of the beleaguered Ukrainians.  As for the rest of the world, China is still successfully pursuing its Belt and Road Initiative.  It combines high speed rail, fiber optic cables, ports, and shipping routes to establish Chinese dominance over the entire Eurasian landmass – with no effective U.S. counter measures. 

A third trigger is clear political threats to a country’s rulers and their economic system.  As for serious challenges to their rule, U.S. elites currently have little to fear, other than new mass movements savvier than the short-lived Occupy Wall Street tent cities of 2011 and the widespread Black Lives Matter street demonstrations in 2020.  While a more powerful and lengthier mass movement is possible, similar to the 1965-1972 Anti-Vietnam war movement, it is not currently likely. 

While the United States in the midst of a deep domestic and global crisis, it is extremely hard to imagine that the neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis embedded in the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and their MAGA-hat partners can reverse it?  It takes much more than shamans wearing animal hides and Q-Anon conspiracy theories to impose economic austerity, subdue future mass movements, and militarily reestablish U.S. global hegemony. 

What remains for the U.S. to become a fascist country? 

First, under fascism, control of a country’s government is necessary, which is based on bi-partisanship in the United States.  For the Trumpers to call a center right political party, the Democrats, socialists and communists is so far from the mark, that it could not remotely solve this country’s looming economic and political challenges.  As revealed by the Ukrainian War, the White House and Congressional Democrats are just as hawkish as their Republican counterparts.  Regarding the domestic features of fascism, Congressional Democrats unquestioningly supported both Patriot Acts, other forms of surveillance, massive deportations, SWAT teams, and mass incarceration at all levels of government. 

Second, neither major US political party has figured out how to persuade the American public to accept economic austerity or to personally support, with their and their children’s lives, expanded foreign wars.  There are no institutions in the U.S. similar to the German Young Volk (ages 10-14) and Hitler Jugend (ages 14-18) that prepared young Germans for full scale war through political indoctrination and military training, prior to mandatory military conscription.   In the U.S., President Richard Nixon abolished the draft in 1972, largely because it led to the breakdown of the U.S. military.  50 years later, no U.S. politician dares call for the reinstatement of conscription, including drafting women.  Yet without these steps, it is hard to see a path forward for a new fascist movement and government to militarily reestablish the United States as the unchallenged global power. 

At this point two of the three triggers for fascism – domestic and foreign crises -- are emerging in the United States, but an essential component for fascist rule is still missing: mobilizing the U.S. public for domestic austerity, political repression, and expanded foreign wars against this country’s two major rivals: Russia and China.  So far, the Vietnam War syndrome has been joined by the Iraq War and Afghanistan War syndromes, and neither major political party and their political leaders have the secret sauce to reverse this situation. 

Until they do, the ominous trends leading towards American fascism will remain trends.


(Victor Rothman is a California based policy analyst.) Top Photo:  New Jersey march of German American Bund (U.S. Nazi’s) in the 1930s.)